13 September 2007


I had posted last spring on a forthcoming collection of essays by John Berger, hoping that it might afford a good summer read. Well, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance (Pantheon) has finally appeared, just in time for the rush of the new academic term. Most of the essays are dated from the past half dozen or so years. (Irritatingly, there are no acknowledgements to indicate the original places of publication.)

Only the final essay ~ "Looking Carefully: Two Women Photographers" ~ deals directly and at length with photography. The women in question, with neither of whom I am familiar, are Ahlam Shibli and Jitka Hanzlová. I will try to post on their work in due time. At the moment, I want instead to call attention to a short passage from another essay, "The Chorus in Our Heads or Pier Paolo Pasolini." I really do not know much at all about Pasolini. Berger's essay, dated 2006, is a response to a 1962 movie, entitled Le Rabbia (Rage), that Pasolini composed from newsreel footage and that was never actually released at the time.

Here is Berger's lament, prompted by watching Rage; it seems especially timely given the onslaught of political "persuasion" to which we've been subjected this week.

“The film lasts only an hour, an hour that was fashioned,
measured, edited forty years ago. And it is in such
contrast to the news commentaries we watch and the
information fed to us now, that when the hour is over,
you tell yourself that it is not only animal and plant species
which are being destroyed and made extinct today, but also a
set of our human priorities. The latter are systematically
sprayed, not with pesticides, but with ethicides -
agents that kill ethics and therefore any
notion of history and justice.

Particularly targeted are those of our priorities which have
evolved from the human need for sharing, bequeathing,
consoling, mourning and hoping. And the ethicides are
sprayed night and day by the mass news media.

The ethicides are perhaps less effective, less speedy than
the controllers hoped, but they have succeeded in
burying and covering up the imaginative space that
any central public forum represents and requires.”

This passage brought to mind a convergence of stories this week. The first was the release by the World Conservation Union of its Red List of endangered species. The second was the reception of general Petraeus in the mainstream media and the Congress (see, e.g., [1] [2] [3] ). It is undeniable that plant and animal species are endangered. As Berger suggests, so too are our priorities and the spaces where we might articulate them.

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Blogger tim atherton said...

possibly the same assay...?


14 September, 2007 09:27  
Blogger tim atherton said...

oops - essay...

14 September, 2007 09:27  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Tim, Thanks. It is indeed the same essay. I admit that as I looked at her work on line I actually figured that you would find it appealing! Some of her shots, but not all, have that bethicketed qaulity and preoccupation and the lighting in many of the others brought you to mind too. Thanks for the lead!

14 September, 2007 11:42  

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